Residence: Tacoma, Washington
Date of Performance/Collection: April 2012
Primary Language: English
My informant described to me a senior tradition from her school:
” The Senior stairs are the stairs for the front, grand staircase, and are casually called the Senior stairs. It used to be one of the Senior privileges was that the Seniors has full control of those stairs and who could use them, so anybody who was a student that was not a Senior was prohibited from using them. Faculty and guests were exempt.
If Seniors caught students using the Senior stairs, the assailant would be punished by the Seniors as was deemed fit by the Seniors. The Co-head of the high school, when in 5th grade, stepped on the Senior Stairs and when caught, he was forced to sing Celine Dion, embarrassing himself. When a student, my Japanese teacher was caught and was forced to skip Class and spend the time scrubbing the floor of the Senior smoke-lounge with a toothbrush.
Because the punishments got too intense, Seniors no longer have full reign of the stairs. Nevertheless, at the end of every year, there is an event called Step Songs, which is centered around the rising Seniors claiming the stairs from the graduating Class to claim their rights as Seniors.
All of the doors in the building are locked besides the front door and another door, and the rising Seniors have to find the mystery door. They then run to the top of the stairs at the front of the school and they fun down onto the stairs and proceed sing songs promoting their own virtues, talking down the under classman, criticizing the faculty, and expressing their excitement for the graduating Class to be gone. There are retorts by the underclassmen, which get single song retorts. Then, the graduating Class closes the ritual by initiating the Alma Mater.”
My informant thinks it is a very important ceremony because at the end of the year, the graduating Class gets the mentality that they are done with high school and check out, and the Juniors get restless and anxious to be Seniors. Besides graduation, there is not a clear, deciding moment for when Juniors become Seniors. This is the moment when they become Seniors, and this creates a way for Juniors to publicly acknowledge and claim that they are now the oldest Class, and it gives the graduating Class the opportunity to hand over these privileges. There is no “oh no, you’re not a Senior yet!”
The Senior Class, a highly regarded position in high school, is an empowered group allotted special privileges to celebrate their dominance, their “Seniority”. The stairs are a symbol the Seniors high standing in the school, and so the process to hand them over is important: it demonstrates that the identity of a Senior must be earned. Because the stairs are only usable to the Senior Class students, it reinforces and celebrates their identity as a member of that Class.